On Wednesday 24th February we highlighted the role of heritage at the iconic Heal's flagship store on Tottenham Court Road.
Heritage speaks of a connection to the past — to the people, places and purposes that were present from the beginning. It is a concept that often plays a prominent role in building a brand. For long-standing organisations, imbuing a sense of nostalgia strengthens the emotional connection with customers, and reinforces ideas of value and trust. A rich heritage also presents opportunities to tell stories, a popular device in a marketplace where discerning customers prefer to buy into quality products and authenticity. Yet with these opportunities comes the challenge of engaging with each new generation and ensuring the brand and its offering remain fresh and relevant.
On Wednesday 24th February, a smart panel of speakers shared their unique perspectives on brand heritage, within the fitting surrounds of Heal's flagship store on Tottenham Court Road, which first opened in 1854. Heal's Head of Collections Pia Benham first shared a history of the iconic British furniture store, examining how the brand's heritage is intrinsically woven into its product offering, collaborations and projects. Speaking alongside Pia was Dean Gomilsek-Cole, Head of Design and Product Development at Turnbull & Asser, experts in crafting luxury menswear since 1885. We then heard from Natalie Christoforou of Rimmel London and Natalie Todd, Senior Account Lead at creative communications agency Cult LDN, who shone a light on the recent celebrations and strategies they've been developing for the 180-year-old British cosmetics brand.
Here's what we learnt.
Draw inspiration from the past to shape your future
Whether that entails delving deep into the archives, or staying committed to the brand’s founding values, lessons for the future can be learnt from the past.
Heal’s extensive archive is housed in the V&A, and the brand’s in-house designers often take inspiration from old fabric patterns or furniture designs when developing new collections.
When Dean joined Turnbull & Asser three years ago, he immersed himself in the life of the brand's Davies Street store, embracing the expertise of the existing and longstanding people who are an integral part of the company. Through his conversations, a single sentiment stood out, “We used to be known as the peacocks of Jermyn Street. Now we feel like the pigeons.” He’s since become determined to help the traditional tailor return to the peacocking of its past, developing bold new fabrics to revolutionise traditional silhouettes and using archive swatches to inspire new fabric designs. He adds irreverent twists by cutting a classic boating stripe horizontally instead of vertically, or hiding playful images within what first appears to be a traditional dogtooth, for example. “Be a sponge, but have the courage to discard the dull, and amplify only what is interesting.”
Tell stories from your past
Heritage only comes to life when you tell the human stories behind it. Like many heritage brands, Turnbull & Asser had previously fallen into the “craft trap,” commissioning cliched process films that focussed too much on how products were made, rather than why. Instead, the brand aims to build these personal stories into lookbooks and campaign concepts.
At Heal’s, the store team are educated about the history of the building and, often as trained designers, are equipped to tell product stories and explain in detail how products are designed and manufactured — from the joints in a chair to the finer details of the production process.
By contrast, Rimmel’s approach is focussed on finding new ways to tell stories about its past that will make that heritage relevant to its audience. For example, the cosmetics brand partnered with Twitter to celebrate its 180th birthday, launching a live stream to sell selected hero products for £1.80 for 180 minutes, while a Twitter Q&A with the brand’s in-house Heritage Expert saw her inundated with questions from young girls eager to discover more about the story behind the brand they buy.
Heritage and innovation go hand in hand
From Burberry’s Snapchat stories to Chanel’s augmented reality Mademoiselle Privé exhibition, luxury brands with rich histories are embracing digital channels, using these platforms to tell their brand stories in original ways that will help extend their audiences to include a younger generation of consumers.
For Rimmel, innovation manifests itself in manifold ways, from devising smart new strategies to engage people on social, to developing new products and formulations in the lab.
Heal’s began when founder Ambrose Heal first brought French feather mattresses to the UK market and, from the first telephone desks to the invention of an easy-to-maintain limed oak finish, his unfaltering flair for innovation has remained central to the brand ever since, with its designs still driven by a desire to create products that fit seamlessly into modern life.
Even as early on as the 1850s, Heal’s had opened up its mattress factory to the public to allow them to see exactly how their mattresses were made — an early form of retail theatre that also highlights the brand’s transparency and commitment to making products in Britain.
As well as injecting a heavy dose of eccentricity into its aesthetic, Turnbull & Asser has updated its website to accommodate e-commerce and has invested more in engaging people across its social channels.
Stay true to your origins
With an untold number of brands — from McDonald’s to Jack Wills — manufacturing brand heritage, it is becoming increasingly difficult to highlight real histories in a saturated landscape in which authenticity is commercialised. By having real histories you can call on, and by harking back to their core founding values, truly authentic heritage brands can stand out from the pretenders.
For Rimmel, a group of iconic ambassadors help represent the brand’s central ethos. As Natalie explained, ‘The London Look’ is defined as an eclectic, urban aesthetic that aims to be accessible rather than striving for perfection. True Londoners Rita Ora, Jade Jagger and, famously, Kate Moss help underscore this image.
As much as storytelling plays an important role, Heal’s 206-year heritage manifests itself primarily in the brand’s continuing commitment to its founding tenets of quality, value, and innovation, as well as the continued championing of British design and manufacturing — “Our history still shapes everything we do today,” Pia explained.
Similarly, Turnbull & Asser has proudly never moved production overseas, and Dean and his team still work closely with the British mills that create their fabrics. Unlike many competitors, who have bent their brands to fit with what they think international markets want, Turnbull & Asser has never forgotten that global consumers want original products with a point of difference, made authentically in places that have an iconic history of the manufacture and design of particular products — from a Swiss watch to a Jermyn Street tie.
Create a future heritage
For companies with rich histories, there is always the danger that heritage can become an anchor, pulling a brand down and preventing it from moving forward. Instead, brands must use their past as a springboard, to continue to build a strong proposition for the future that will ensure their longevity.
By continuing to champion young designers, helping support up-and-coming new talents to bring products to market, Heal’s has maintained its position at the forefront of British product design.
Over the last few years, Turnbull & Asser has introduced the practice of creating cohesive, seasonal collections, which will help shape a signature house style that will ultimately establish a future heritage for the brand.
A little more about the brands...
Starting with feather-filled mattresses in 1810, Heal's has always been at the forefront of innovative furniture and homeware design – adapting its product offering to the changing times and trends. The historic flagship building is much more than just a store, it is a landmark of London’s west end. First opened in 1854, it boasts three floors of designer furniture, lighting and homewares, and the building plays host to dedicated design showrooms, bespoke furniture services and a cafe by Forge & Co. Over the years, right through to the present day, Heal's has built a reputation for supporting young designers, while its ongoing event and workshop programmes continue to engage and enlighten its customers.
Turnbull & Asser
John Arthur Turnbull founded his eponymous shop with salesman Ernest Asser in 1885. After John died a decade later, Ernest took over and renamed it to the title it holds today. The Jermyn Street store opened in 1903 — fast forward 130 years and the brand adheres to the same values while boasting an iconic list of customers. Famous for their flamboyant patterns and bespoke services, Dean Gomilsek-Cole joined Turnbull and Asser in 2013 to help reinvigorate the brand for a fresh cohort of customers. Their gowns, pocket squares, shirts and suits are renowned for their enduring quality and craftsmanship, and the company have been granted a royal warrant by appointment to HRH Prince of Wales.
Rimmel is one of the work's oldest cosmetics brands, founded by apprentice perfumer Eugene Rimmel at the tender age of 14. By the age of 24, he had become, not only an expert perfumer, but also a cosmetics visionary, experimenting with fragrance and colour, and travelling the world in search of exotic ingredients and new ideas. The House of Rimmel was one of the first brands to sense the potential of advertising and began to publish lavishly illustrated mail order catalogues and to place advertisements in theatre programmes. When Eugene died in 1887, his two sons inherited his beauty empire, building on their father’s success internationally by developing an extensive colour line with a special focus on eye-enhancing products, in particular Rimmel’s revolutionary mascaras. So popular did they become that “Rimmel” is to this day the word for mascara in several languages! During the 1970s and 1980s the company changed hands several times before it was finally acquired by Coty Inc. in 1996. Rimmel has since gone from strength to strength, bringing its unique London look to more than 40 countries worldwide and establishing itself as Britain’s best-selling cosmetics brand.
Location:196 Tottenham Court Road,
London, W1T 7PJ,
Start:24th February, 2016 at 6:30pm
End:24th February, 2016 at 8:30pm